An Islandful of Wonders: Sziget 2018 Days Three and Four

Day three is the day when most festivals end, on Sziget it’s the ‘it finally began in earnest’ day, also the day when I could spend a good session of moaning over my spritzer that maybe the line-up isn’t all that it’s hyped up to be, and I literally (few things feel more satisfying than using literally in the almost literal sense) have no band to see. Which isn’t correct, firstly, because I actually did see The Kooks, I was moaning while seeing the Kooks to be more precise, and adding the tidbit that I felt they would have been tedious even when their one major hit, Naive, was all the rage. They are a prime example of that odd kind of band which sticks around for a long-ish while, has a couple more hits besides the one that made them truly popular, but they can never again reach the same heights.

Parov Stelar also has one hit only, fundamentally all his songs are that one hit in an infernal eternal loop of swing that makes everybody jump up and dance around at wedding receptions and Mediterranean resorts for middle class retirees. His brass section looks bored out of its mind, and I can’t blame them, he’s towering at a glorified desk over the lead singer, who looks amazing in a ridiculously tight and uncomfortable looking pair of knickers and yet is the only person on stage who looks like she has a bit of her heart in it. Nevermind, though, the public seems to love it and aren’t particularly frazzled when at the end of the set, after everyone bows out and leaves the stage, that same damn song keeps playing on obliviously, as if Parov forgot to press stop on his laptop. (Probably that’s what actually happened.)

This is the moment when some Sziget days bring the epiphany of accidentally discovering someone really amazing and criminally undervalued on one of the minor stages, but this time around unluck would have it that fate gave me Omar Netzer, who pleasantly has a little Harry Cavill thing going on, a shorter and buffer Middle Eastern version to be more precise. He can also play guitar rather well, that much I could tell, but it all seems a bit preposterous, he bursts into Gary Moore-esque solos punctuating songs that you couldn’t tell apart if your life depended on it. His band also contains a member who looks like a ZZ Top escapee, which is the obvious highlight of the performance and thus I was off to the unknown.

The unknown was beautiful and contained many wondrous things, though, sadly, not the glitter dolphin in the Art of Freedom area. I am keeping my fingers crossed that he’s just stashed somewhere else, now that his spirit lives on in the Sziget app, which has a rotating dolphin to amuse you while you wait for it to load. That’s not very frequent, though, it generally happens only when, like the rest of the 50.000 souls around, you suddenly feel like consulting what’s after the headliner you’ve been waiting for an eternity now, tightly packed as disciplined beer consuming sardines. Otherwise it’s a marvelous development, easy to use and with immediate notifications if the schedule changes, though I do swoon over the joys of physically feeling the programme, or the even more analogue version of hand written what to see lists.

The many wondrous things did however include the following: a Frida Kahlo photo wall with stick-on unibrows, a Zastava, a bull made out of tires onto which people clambered for selfies, an agile young man in dangerous heels instructing people on how to vogue, a jazz trio which I spent a good five minutes watching when my average tolerance for jazz is five nanoseconds and a modern dance performance with included people standing on each other’s faces.

Energized by the variety of my night, I returned to the Main Stage for the evening’s headliner, Lana Del Rey who turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I do actually listen to her frequently, but I had the eerie feeling that her hyper-constructed world would not translate well live and yet it did. Her moody melancholia might not seem headline material but as the night went on I kept realizing just how amazingly well written her songs are, with a slow burning power that finally wins you over, plus she’s perfected some gimmicks, completely in line with her image,  to keep the proceedings entertaining: she sings while lying down, then climbs onto a piano, and even spends about five minutes in the pit taking selfies with the fans and giving autographs.

In spite of her best efforts we did however bail on her to join the queue for the half past eleven circus performance, Afrique en Cirque, which was stupendous in a way good circus sometimes is, turning you in a five year old who is eternally amazed by the workings of world, in our case, things the human body can accomplish at speeds that hurt normal mortals when they clap their hands to the rhythm. I am in eternal awe and in my next life I want to be born as someone who has the willpower to learn half of their tricks.

The dearth of concert experiences on day three was more than compensated for by day four, which we began with Lianne La Havas, who showed up alone, with a guitar and a voice that can move mountains, a transgressive thing to do in a world of super-expensive productions with armies of dancers, confetti, people dangling off ropes and fire being blasted onto the unsuspecting front rows. Then it was on to A38 for Everything Everything, who have always somehow belonged to that class of indie bands that I can never fully tell apart yet they sound entertaining enough and have a nucleus of die-hard fans in the indie ethos of choosing something obscure as your most favouritest act in the world ever.

Bastille are definitely not my most favouritest band ever, but they have been slowly growing on me, particularly as a festival band who can pack a punch with some stupendously catchy hits. Dan Smith is also the definition of a nice guy, attempting several Hungarian phrases (which might become the next global rage now that Kate McKinnon made Yózsefváros famous), making friendly banter and remarking how Sziget is the longest fucking festival ever, which makes us all very content and smug. It was thus with a bleeding heart that I moved over to the Europe stage, completely ignoring Fink, playing in A38, in the process, basically because I am a horrible hipster magpie who immediately zooms in on the next completely bonkers alternative fetish, in our case Estonian self-proclaimed rap superstar Tommy Ca$h. Arriving just about a minute into the set, I was welcomed by one of the most consistent crowds the stage had ever seen, chanting the lyrics to one of Tommy’s hits, the poetically named Pussy Money Weed. While evidently capitalizing on the squatting Slavs phenomenon (he showed up in an Adidas meets Soviet army uniform combo), there in an added element of exotic kook which I primarily associate with Finland, but which obviously belongs to a continuum which spreads over the Baltic into Estonia.

From Tommy it was over to A38 for Sofi Tukker and some ridiculously infectious jungle pop. There’s really not much to be said about the New York duo except that they write absurdly catchy, light, silly, fun songs, drawing on a variety of inspirations (Brazil tops that list, with some songs being delivered in Portuguese) and they do it so perfectly that it becomes a work of pure genius. I do now realize than in my enthusiasm over both Tommy Ca$h and Sofi Tukker I forgot to mention having listened to a couple of songs by the evening’s headliners, Mumford and Sons, and being profoundly unimpressed. They sounded tinny and flimsy, completely in line with my eternal puzzlement at why on earth are they so big. If anyone’s figured it out, please let me know. (Just to make it clear: I don’t think they’re inherently bad, they have plenty of perfectly enjoyable café background songs but major is a word I’d never associate with them under any circumstances.)

Astronautalis, ending the day’s proceedings on the Europe Stage, was the perfect antidote to the Mumfords’ empty pomp: rapping to a compact crowd, with many die-hard fans, he encapsulates the kind of honesty and pure pleasure in doing things the right way that most acts lack today. When he talks about wanting to come to Sziget, being happy to finally be invited then getting lost on the island despite having a map, you relate and believe him, and feel that when he sings, even if he does it about Florida, he sings about your experiences too. When at the end of the show he joined the crowd and rapped away a cappella in their midst I felt like it was time I put the camera down and for once just simply listened.

PS: I feel I have very much wronged Aurora, taking to the A38 stage while Astronautalis was still playing, by not being able to connect to her concert this time, which is an absolute shame given she was my number 3 concert of 2016. I promise to make amends this time, but sometimes Sziget is simply so good it proves too much.

PPS: This gets even worse, I realize I also completely glided over Perturbator, who played A38 at 2 AM on what was already Saturday, but he, not unlike Aurora, might have suffered from having been the last act to close a very long day, though somehow industrial synths are better in tune with being hideously tired than Aurora’s  more taxing forest sprite vibes. And as a last extremely to the point remark- I think James Kent aka Perturbator looks much better with short hair. If you thought reading to this point was totally meaningless, you now finally know it was oh so worth it. 

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